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  • Writer's pictureCharles Rutheiser

Diaries of a Mad Social Scientist--2 December 2023

The world is always moving beneath our feet, in many directions, but we rarely feel it. The world is in constant motion around and through us, but we only catch partial glimpses, forget most of what we see, and mis-remember much of the rest. And that’s on a good day. I write in an effort to not forget so much.


I’m not a digital native. Consider this blog the beginning of my application process for naturalization. In it, I’ll talk about things that interest or sometimes obsess me: wicked problems, history, mythology, travel, random variables and the Doctrine of Chances, dreams, magic, ghosts, all kinds of enchanted and cursed objects, psychogeography, the vagaries of memory and the unreliability of maps, ‘Pataphysics, altered states, The Uncanny Valley, ethnography, pre-digital photography, the viral nature of language, science and superstition, movies, cities, buildings, food, potent potables, music, ironies of tragic fate, baseball and books, perhaps books most of all. 


Speaking of books, let me tell you a little more about my new novel, Mysteries of the Great City, from Lantern No. 9, Baltimore’s latest imprint for twisted tales. I’m calling it a gothic neo-noir thriller, although it also aspires to be something of a fugitive from the genre police. 


Set in the summer of 1985, it’s the story of two young American travelers, Teddy Ansky and Helen Phillips, who meet a hippie goddess by the name of Natasha Blitz at Jim Morrison’s grave in Pére Lachaise Cemetery. Teddy is a graduate student from New York who’s been studying in London. He’s a little neurotic and insecure but open to new experiences. Helen is his ex-girlfriend, a former wild child who’s turned into a born-again yuppie. Natasha lets them in on a little secret: Jim Morrison isn’t dead, but alive and well and throwing a party, a secret party, and they’re invited. The invitation comes with three conditions. First, that they must play a game, called Mysteries of the Great City, to discover the address. Second, they must only speak French. Third, they must assume the new identities that Natasha bestows on them—Théo and Hélène.


Even though Teddy is mortified by his atrocious French accent and knows quite well that Jim Morrison is dead, he’s enchanted by Natasha and accepts immediately. After a lengthy argument, Helen follows suit. 


The game they must play belongs to Desi Falba, a drug dealer on the run from both the cops and his boss, a mobster named Arthur Venable. Desi is hard to find, however, and when they finally track him down in a grim, suburban ghetto, they find that he’s promised the game to a group of sketchy characters led by Loïs, a gruff gangster-ish badass who doesn’t think much of Americans. Nevertheless, Natasha—who turns out to be something of a gangster herself—convinces Loïs that the two groups should play the game together. 


The ensuing frenetic scavenger hunt, refereed by a team of mysterious judges, takes the group to a variety of places—a concert in a park, a circus sideshow, an antique shop and a set of a movie being filmed in Paris by the auteur Voltan Tchmenck—looking for, among other things: an old man in a wheelchair, a bracelet made of hair and a intricate wooden box that they must steal from a bizarre private collection located on the top floor of a Baroque mansion on the Île Saint-Louis. 


Things go well, at first, then fall apart as the players are stalked by mysterious attackers, who inflict casualties and force them to escape into the Zone of the Underneath, a network of passages deep below the streets of Paris. Both curious marvels and new dangers lurk there, however, and spark growing tensions amongst the survivors who learn, much too late for some, that the game isn’t just a game but a very serious, and even stranger, business.

 

Twists and turns and clutches of Easter eggs abound for those readers who know where and how to look. There might be prizes!

 

E-books are available for immediate download on Amazon Kindle, to be followed shortly by print editions on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s and Ingram.

 

Til next week,

—CCR

 

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